I’ve been living in Brooklyn, NY since 2010, but you couldn’t call me a city dweller. At first, it seemed utterly impossible to make all of the scattered pieces fit and pay my rent, feed my dog, and still get out as much as possible. After asking myself the question: “Do I want to survive or do I want to live?”, I stopped putting so much emphasis on making money and a lot of choices that followed became no brainers. And guess what? I can still pay my rent and my dog still gets fed, and we’re both much, much happier.

All of the snuggles. All of them

For me, there is something about that surge of excitement I get from packing my car and crossing over the GW. I love it as much as I do the warm, tingly rush when making my way back over the bridge and seeing all of those magical lights for the first time again.

When I hear the word “adventure”, I don’t necessarily think of big mountains and vast oceans. I think about bushwhacking for unnecessary hours, wrong turns and car break downs, driving down unknown highways at 4 a.m., and the ever familiar retreat back to your car/apartment/campsite in blinding, freezing cold rain with no shell.

Most adventures begin sleeping on airport floors—obviously.

Mine went from cold car camping in Red River Gorge to the La Guardia airport floor. I made a floor buddy, drank some whiskey, and smuggled two large NYC pizzas onto my flight and woke up to big, beautiful, clear Tennessee skies. There was a Dirtbag Climber reunion at Rocktown, GA.

Rocktown holds some of the best sandstone boulder problems I have ever seen or tried. Erick sent the classic Golden Showers (V5) and uphill and to the right, we worked the moves on a V5 called Blue. It’s a steep slab to a slabby arete that Justin Miller calls one of his all time favorites. It was a perfect Dirtbag day—and the cherry on top was the invert offwidth V5 problem that Erick showed me on the way out. It sits about a foot or so off of the ground with a painful jam before you throw your legs above your head.

The weekend then brought me to beautiful Tennessee Wall, where gear placements are plentiful and the sandstone is bulletproof. And that view! There is no other place like Twall in the autumn. I knew from my first Tennessee trip that I would be back. Twall is like someone took the Gunks and flipped it on its side, then gave the roof/crack systems a bunch of steroids. It is…magnificent.

I honestly don’t know that I would climb anywhere else but Twall if I lived in Tennessee. In fact, I might move to Tennessee so that I CAN climb everything at Twall. Someday.

Kenzi Lewis enjoying her first view at Twall atop Quick and Dirty (5.8)
Mark Pugeda: “No, seriously. I want a fist bump.”

Never having spent any time in Paradise Falls, my landmark for finding climbs was Fists of Fury (5.12c), a seriously serious roof crack that is one hell of a climb. We had to hike a ways to find it. I don’t call many things or people in this life “badass” (Indiana Jones is badass. Han Solo is badass. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is badass.) But Fists of Fury is a BADASS MOTHER LOVING route, period.

I had rigged a line to take photographs in the later part of the day. When we finished up, I rapped down and had already decided it was too late to start. Then Kenzi got me psyched again and before I knew it, I’d tied into a rope and began racking up as dark started in. Armed with a headlamp and some big cams, I made my way up the first 15 feet. Just the START of the climb felt full on and I had to work the moves and the gear up to and over the lip, then down aid my pieces, and come down before packing up for the night. Though I am feeling worked, I’m also feeling a little bit more confident in the beginning moves and will be back, without a doubt. My fists are ready…and furious.

Starting Fists of Fury (5.12c) by headlamp. Photograph by Mark Pugeda
All in the business now. Photograph by Mark Pugeda

Kirk Brode, who has become one of my favorite people in the south, sent me a surprise text that day. He told me that Misty Mountain would like me to wear their harnesses—and would I be down to be filmed climbing at Twall within the next few days? My answer was an immediate “hell yes!”

Sunday morning, Kenzi, Lauren and I met Kevin Riley at the Twall parking lot after pancake breakfast and we hustled our way back up the hill after picking a line with good afternoon light.

We had originally picked a really wonderful 5.10+ called Orange Peel Express (only to back off after realizing that the flake was so hollow sounding). Moving over to Trimmed and Burned (5.10+), we gave it a gear beta burn which involved brushing almost the entire route off. West Twall cliffs get much less traffic; it’s almost like climbing the route for the first time! After passing through the hueco, finding the most amazing horizontal for a hand jam, I moved into the crux which consisted of slopers and water grooves.

My first go, I was desperate to figure out how to move through the crux. I wound up jamming an awkward, tight left fist that was ready to pop out at any second. Bringing my left foot high underneath me, I held my breath to balance and brought a right fist above my left and very carefully (and very quickly) stepped up to climb a few feet further to bolts.

Working the moves of Trimmed and Burned (5.10+). Photograph by Lauren Morris
That view though…

And now, as I head back to the airport, I think about what an adventure November has been. I didn’t make it to the Valley. I haven’t made it out west yet. I don’t really make enough money to justify long weekends in Red Rocks or the Creek (but if I did, I would in a heartbeat. I can tell you what I DID have, though: a buttload of fun. And November is nowhere near over.

A big life consists of mostly simple things…like birthday flowers in Yosemite last year

A big life doesn’t have to be too fast paced or jam-packed with action. This past year especially, I’ve become really good at nesting and feeling at home wherever I go. I think it’s a good life skill to have, specifically one that you want if you’re an aspiring vagabond. Tonight, I take my little big little life back with me in one 35-liter backpack back to Astoria.

Home…well, it’s kind of a funny thing. Maybe we should never make home a place, but instead, a feeling or state of being. Whatever my latitude and longitude is, whether I’m working or climbing (or neither and just being and existing), I know that the true joy of life comes from being content where I am, in whatever moment. For this reason, home is constantly changing for me.

When I moved out of my parents’ house for the first time looking for adventure, there was something inside of me that knew that I was looking for someplace to call home. I’ve spent the better part of my twenties searching, trying to find my “place” only to realize that the thing I’d been searching for for so long is something I carry within. Home is wherever I am at that particular moment in time. So, when I see those first lights flying into La Guardia, I’ll know that I’m already there.

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